The Lost Souls in Purgatory

By Debbie Moore-Black, RN

In elementary Catholic school every day we sat at our school desks and the nuns had us pray for the lost souls in purgatory.
If we prayed hard enough, we would be able to pray them out of purgatory and lift them up into heaven.

Before I clock in, I say my Anti-assault prayers to the gods. I pray for safety. I pray for the next 12 hours to be uneventful.
I thought I would give ICU nursing a break after 33 years. No one lasts 33 years in ICU… but I did.

I thought I would find something easy and non-eventful to slide into my retirement.
ICU vs Behavioral Health. Kind of apples and oranges.

I encounter psychotics. Bipolar, borderline personalities, schizophrenia. They come homeless or from prison or from their tattered lives. Repeated admissions for the rest of their lives.

The adolescence unit patient grows up and after turning 18, they come to join us. In their outside world, there’s non-compliance with medication, noncompliance with their therapists. They re-enter their toxic environments from their homes before they enter a somewhat safety zone, a pretend sanctuary ie: the hospital; the Behavioral Health unit.

The young female in her 20-30’s who was sexually assaulted in her youth by known family members or abusive boyfriends, the men who for years diagnosed with schizophrenia but zero medication compliance. A lifetime of verbally, mentally and physically beaten down, never having a chance to get up for air… drowning.

I offer them their medications for the night. Some are gracious and polite. Some talk to the walls or talk to the TV blaring, or stare out their window seeing imaginary people that are real to them, drifting in the clouds.
The psychotic ones can’t focus. They talk rapidly non-stop to their invisible person.
The violent ones lash out randomly.
Was I a trigger? Do I look like someone from their past? Did I say something wrong?

I have been hit in the head several times at random. I’ve been placed in a wheelchair after a female patient hit me repeatedly in the head, all random all unprovoked, CT scan of my head because I became dizzy.
Despite our mandatory class of non-violence crisis intervention training, learning exact twists and turns to prevent an assault altercation…. I don’t know how to defend myself; I don’t know how to swat a fly.

What have I learned these last three years in behavioral health?
Drug abuse, narcotics cocaine, benzos, opiates, amphetamines, meth, alcohol, cutting, banging your head against the wall, cutting on their arms and legs, self mutilation. Or banging their fist against their head, make the voices go away. Make it stop.
And they repeat I want to Kill myself I want to jump into traffic I want to kill my mother. Mother hate.

In this controlled environment I pray they’ll take their medications without incident.
I pray they won’t harm themselves or others or us.
The mind can be a very dark place. A place that has stored unresolved years of abuse and anger and neglect.
It’s a different world of nursing.
My valuable lesson seems to carry me through day after day.
And that is to respect them. Be gentle. And most of all be kind.
Because kindness is something they haven’t felt in a very long time.

And I continue to pray for these lost souls….